In my opinion, there are two aspects of playing the trumpet that transcend all others. They are music and sound. In this post, I want to speak specifically regarding sound.
The sound you create on your instrument is part of your musical identity. In our profession, it’s like our musical fingerprint. Each person’s sound is unique. It not only plays a important role in defining who (and how) we are musically, but it can impact others when they listen to us perform.
While it might be impressive if a performer is able to successfully perform very rapid multiple tonguing passages, execute challenging technical passages with precision, or play in the extreme upper register, those things don’t really matter much if the performer’s sound isn’t beautiful. When your grandmother comes to your recital, usually her first comment is, “congratulations sweetie, you sounded great!” Not, “wow, your triple tonguing is like a machine gun!”
Here are some elements that have helped me and my students continue to develop a beautiful sound:
1 – Know what you want to sound like. Have a clear idea about the characteristics you would like in your sound. I really like Barbara Butler’s comment regarding sound, “casting aside words like dark and bright, what I love in a trumpet sound is life, energy, spin, singing beauty and personality. Everyone needs to develop and think about their sound.”
Part of developing your concept of a good sound is listening to great models. Some of my influential models have been Phil Smith, Maurice Andre, Bud Herseth, Chris Martin, and my teachers, Bill Campbell and Paul Mereklo, in particular. Recently, I have really been impressed with Tom Hooten’s sound. It is captivating, intense, and stunningly beautiful.
If you don’t know who the people I referenced are, find out! Go listen to professional performers as much as you can. Hear them live. Hear them on recordings. Listen. Listen. Listen.
2 – Develop healthy fundamentals and maintain them religiously. Address your sound every day. I make this the overarching focus in my practice and performance. For example, technical studies are sound studies to me. Everything is focused on sound. Also, breathe properly. In my approach, air is an important key. I do flow studies daily. These help me focus on my sound. Work to have a properly formed embouchure. Use the best equipment you can.
3 – Stay in shape. It’s really difficult to maintain a healthy sound if you aren’t in shape. For example, those who have the healthiest bodies take care of them. Your sound is the same. Take care of it.
4 – Pay a lot of attention to resonance. Listen to the highs, mids, and lows in your sound. Does your sound have breadth? Depth? Projection? My post about centering your pitches and playing accurately discusses a way to improve resonance. Many words we use to describe sound are abstract. Find words that click for you and use them to explain and think about your sound.
There are many other aspects of performing with a good sound. These are some that help me and are on my mind frequently.
What helps you develop your sound?